Farakka row: Time to shelve colonial reductionist engineering, explore Chinese model



National governments often get engaged in a “two-level game” when dealing with transboundary waters. They have to deal with their domestic water regimes, and almost simultaneously get into international transboundary water negotiations, keeping in view their domestic objectives. On the other hand, international agreements also affect domestic hydro-political conditions. Therefore, a move in one game will typically have implications for the outcome of the other. The lower Ganges (flowing through India and Bangladesh) exemplifies this hypothesis, with the Farakka Barrage being the point of contention.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s call for removal of the Farakka Barrage has created rolls in the ongoing debate on the utility and/or disutility of the Farakka Barrage. The barrage, located in the Indian state of West Bengal, roughly 16.5 kilometres from the border with Bangladesh, was planned to enhance the flow of Bhagirathi-Hooghly branch so as to resuscitate the port at Kolkata (then Calcutta), located downstream. While the Farakka Barrage has been blamed for reducing the streamflow, causing salinity ingression and drying up the Sundarbans delta, the problem with the management of sediments has lately taken an ugly turn with the floods in UP and Bihar. While the Central Water Commission asked for the opening of the barrage gates to release water, large parts of the Malda district in West Bengal on the north of the Farakka Barrage got flooded. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Bannerjee called this flood a “man-made” one.

BIMSTEC and India’s shifting diplomatic calculus


As leaders of BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) meet leaders of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in Goa as part of the latter’s outreach summit next week, in many ways it indicates New Delhi’s shifting regional diplomatic focus and gives BIMSTEC its most high-profile global exposure since its inception. BIMSTEC was established almost two decades ago by  few countries from South Asia and Southeast Asia to reconnect and reintegrate the two regions.

Until now, BIMSTEC as a forum has barely engaged regional and global institutions. The only noteworthy collaboration it has is with Asian Development Bank (ADB) which became a development partner of the forum since 2005. With connectivity being a major objective of the sub-regional forum, ADB has undertaken a study to help promote and improve transport infrastructure and logistic among the BIMSTEC countries.

Various factors explain New Delhi’s decision to invite BIMSTEC leaders to the BRICS outreach summit. First, amid New Delhi’s efforts to isolate Islamabad, inviting SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) leaders would have defeated the purpose. Much has changed in India’s regional diplomacy since Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited SAARC leaders to his swearing-in ceremony a couple of years ago. Second, while Delhi has the option of inviting leaders of the sub-regional BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal) initiative, this would have left out other neighbours including Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

Need of the hour is a Smart Border


The terrorist attack on a military base camp in the border town of Uri in Jammu & Kashmir calls for re-visiting the existing border management practices. On September 18, armed terrorists attacked the military base at Uri causing the death of 17 army personnel. The militants belonging to Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed infiltrated in Jammu & Kashmir through the heavily guarded international border to carry out terrorist activities in the State.

The Uri incident was not the first when militants infiltrated from across the border to mount an attack on the Indian Armed Forces. The strike followed within eight months of the Pathankot attack where militants intruded from Pakistan and attacked an Air Force base. Repeated acts of terror from across the border led to rigorous introspection in the Government for developing measures to avoid such tragedies.

Authorities are pondering over both diplomatic and military measures. There is a need to strengthen security at the border. Smart border or use of technological equipment for border guarding stand as a viable option.

India has a total of 15,106.7 kilometres of land border with countries including Bangladesh, China, Pakistan, Nepal, Myanmar and Bhutan. With Pakistan, India shares 3,323 kilometres running through States including Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir, with varied geographical features.

Finding a long-term solution to Cauvery water dispute

The recent ugly turn of events in the Cauvery river water dispute between upstream Karnataka and downstream Tamil Nadu bear ample testimony of the extreme clashes of egos on the side of the political leadership eventually flowing down to the levels of the common man like a deluge. The chequered history of hydro-political relations between the two states has been marked by conflicts, agreements, defections, court orders and “blame games” from either parties — way back from the mid-1850s.

On February 5, 2007, the Cauvery Tribunal finally declared the Final Award for allocation of the water between the states of the basin. The Tribunal determined that the total utilisable waters of the Cauvery for the states on the basis of 50% dependability to be 740 tmc  (20,954 MCM). In the process, it allotted 419 tmc (as against its demand of 562 tmc) of the Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu; 270 tmc (as against its demand of 465 tmc ft) to Karnataka; 30 tmc to Kerala and 7 tmc to Pondicherry. While allocating the 726 tmc of water, the Tribunal has “reserved” 10  tmc for “environmental protection”  and 4 TMC for “inevitable escapages to the sea.”

In many of my previous writings, especially in my paper published in the journal, Water Policy,with Jayanta Bandyopadhyay in 2009, I had criticised this simple-average-based allocation, terming this phenomenon as “arithmetic hydrology.” Such a paradigm of water allocation based on “arithmetic hydrology” has been a proven disaster across the world, and Cauvery river allocation exemplifies that. The basis of reservation for “environmental protection” and “inevitable escapages to the sea” is utterly ad hoc, and does not even conform to the global scientific knowledge of environmental flows.

Naval missile systems and the limits of artificial intelligence

The new buzzword in militaries across the world today is ‘artificial intelligence’ (AI) — the ability for combat platforms to self-control, self-regulate and self-actuate, using inherent computing and decision-making capabilities. That advanced computing technologies today enable autonomous systems to identify and strike hostile targets is no surprise. What is new is that a fast deteriorating security environment in the maritime commons has led to a growing interest in ‘intelligent’ naval missiles that promises to revolutionise future maritime combat.

While advancements in remotely operated weapons like drones have been driving superior AI technology, there are, however, complex questions that remain unanswered. Many of them have to do with the logic of AI in defence systems. What, for instance, is the real incentive for military commanders to encourage the development and deployment of autonomous weapons? Is the case for divesting human executive control over weapons systems fundamentally self-defeating? Does the growing deployment of anti-access/area denial weapons justify AI enabled systems in littorals spaces? Lastly, and perhaps most crucially, in the face of electronic/cyber capability advancements, is the use of autonomous weapons at sea an unavoidable reality?

A good point of departure for the discussion on autonomous combat systems is a recent report in the Chinese media about the development of a family of cruise missiles with artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. In August this year, a Chinese daily reported that China’s aerospace industry was developing tactical missiles with inbuilt intelligence that would help seek out targets in combat. The ‘plug and play’ approach, a Chinese aerospace executive pointed out, could potentially enable China’s military commanders to launch missiles tailor made for specific combat conditions.

Russia, China and Eurasian integration

In the last three years, Russia under Vladmir Putin has surprised us by actions in Crimea and Ukraine, and then, more recently, in Syria. All three have been wildly welcomed in Russia and, in their own way, successful, and have brought observers to wonder whether Russia is now once again a geopolitical player, in Eurasia, if not in the globe. Adding to this has been the growing proximity between Russia and China. Ever since Russia’s estrangement with the West over Ukraine, ties between the two countries have developed in three areas — energy, finance and infrastructure — and now they are reviving in defence.

Putin’s first two Presidential terms were from 2000 to 2008 — seen as political stabilisation and economic growth. The third from 2012 has not quite brought either. Putin began with a three-point plan — prosperity, the rule of law and westward integration. But all three are now in doubt.

The rise in oil prices after 2000 gave Russia a windfall of $1.1 trillion, but today the prices are down three quarters from their peak. According to The Economist, average salaries which were $850 per month in 2014 were just $450 in 2015.

Corruption, western sanctions and low oil price for oil and gas have affected the Russian economy. It has cut Russia off from western capital markets and FDI fell a massive 92 percent in 2015. In 2015, its GDP shrank by four percent.

If India wants to become a superpower, it has to stop trying to become the next China

India is currently in the midst of two large but different endeavours.

The first is to complete the unfinished agenda of the previous decade, providing the country with the modern infrastructure, rural amenities, social services, and connectivity that any developed economy needs. And the second, the most ambitious of the two, is to create jobs, wealth, and value to accommodate a young and aspiring population, eradicate poverty, and boost GDP growth.

But these two projects are being undertaken at a time when global headwinds are deeply unfavourable. Today there are five hurdles that stand between India and its ambition to join the club of developed economies.

The first is the advent of this new age where the open, free, and democratic global trading system has become a pale shadow of its previous self. The multilateral trading system — and the preference for this kind of model — has waned considerably. It is being replaced by free trade arrangements between smaller groups of countries and regions, where a handful of stakeholders are able to decide the terms of trade.

This is coupled with a stagnation in global financial flows, because of weak growth, and the growing disquiet over globalisation, curiously enough, in the developed world. From the EU to the UK to the US, politicians are using globalisation as a convenient culprit for all that ails domestic economies and societies.

Weighing the burden of proof The case of the former Coal Secretary, H.C. Gupta, has raised an important debate. The issues involved in the prevention of corruption are more complex than an officer’s personal integrity

“An honest civil servant should not be harassed by anybody or agency or institution while in service or after retirement. It would make the civil servants working in the system nervous and edgy, which would not be in the interest of the country,” Sanjay Bhoosreddy, Honorary Secretary of the Central IAS Officers Association has said. Ponderous words indeed in the context of former Union Coal Secretary H.C. Gupta, who is facing trial in several Coalgate cases, choosing not to have any lawyer to defend him. Mr. Gupta told the trial judge recently that he did not have the money to hire a lawyer. He also turned down an offer of state aid made by the judge. In all likelihood, he will argue his own case. This is an extraordinary decision that could prove to be a double-edged weapon. The skill required to defend an accused in a criminal case is a specialised one. In my view, Mr. Gupta is taking too big a chance out of desperation and disgust at the way things are taking shape around him.

Appeal to good senses

Mr. Gupta is obviously outraged at the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) action. He probably understands that the law on the subject is against him, and he would therefore appeal directly to the good senses of the judge, something bordering on an attempt to play on emotions. Not for him the technicalities of what he is accused of. In his own eyes, he has done nothing wrong, and cannot be placed in the company of the corrupt and wily. He is only partly right. Many in government and outside may dismiss him as a maverick. From whatever I have heard of him, Mr. Gupta was an outstanding officer with a reputation for integrity. Remember also that the formal charge sheet against him by the CBI do not allege that he ever obtained any gratification for showing favour to the private companies that had received licences to operate a few coal mines. The charge sheet indicts him only as part of a ‘conspiracy’ to confer undue favour on private parties, and which caused loss to the public exchequer. This implied that he was negligent, and there was no application of mind on his part when the screening committee headed by him decided to examine the licence applications in question. There is no recorded evidence, however, that he dissented from the majority opinion which favoured the grant of licences to some firms. The conclusions of his committee were purely recommendatory in nature. That the final authority here was the Coal Minister, who, at that point of time, was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and that he was not prosecuted by the investigating agency, is not very relevant to Mr. Gupta’s defence — although the CBI decision, possibly backed by legal opinion, smacked of double standards. Remember, in Bofors, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi figured posthumously in the charge sheet as ‘accused not sent for trial’ only because he held charge of Defence. There was no charge that Bofors made any payment to him. Interestingly, what many of us would look upon as a moral or constructive civil liability comes to be defined as ‘criminal misconduct’ under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, which was enacted to lend more deterrence to what was being considered for long as a weak and toothless — the 1947 law against public servant corruption.

What is Unified Payment Interface?

National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) announced on Thursday that bank applications for the Unified Payment Interface have officially become operational, which means that UPI apps of banks can now be downloaded and used for transactions:

What is UPI and what can a user do with the app?

UPI is a payment system that allows money transfer between any two bank accounts by using a smartphone.

UPI allows a customer to pay directly from a bank account to different merchants, both online and offline, without the hassle of typing credit card details, IFSC code, or net banking/wallet passwords.

How can one download the UPI app?

The UPI app of 19 banks — Andhra Bank, Axis Bank, Bank of Maharashtra, Bhartiya Mahila Bank, Canara Bank, Catholic Syrian Bank, DCB Bank, Federal Bank, ICICI Bank, TJSB Sahakari Bank, Oriental Bank of Commerce, Karnataka Bank, UCO Bank, Union Bank of India, United Bank of India, Punjab National Bank, South Indian Bank, Vijaya Bank and YES Bank — will be available on the Google Play Store of Android phones in the next few days for customers to download.

Steps to get started with UPI

1. Download the app from Play Store and install in phone; 2. Set app login; 3. Create virtual address; 4. Add your bank account; 5. Set M-Pin; and 6. Start transacting using UPI

How safe is UPI?

It is safe as the customers only share a virtual address and provide no other sensitive information.

India-China ties in focus — Foreign Minister Wang Yi visits India

India-China relations will be under a glare in the coming months. Prime Minister Modi will travel to Hangzhou, China, for the G-20 Summit on September 4 and 5, where he and his host President Xi Jinping will have an opportunity to discuss bilateral ties, in addition to G20 matters. Xi is scheduled to travel to India to participate in the BRICS Summit in Goa on October 15 and 16. The two leaders will also participate in the East Asia Summit in Vientiane, Laos, on September 6 and 7.

Modi and Xi have met on several earlier occasions over the last two years. During Modi’s first international travel to Fortaleza, Brazil, for the BRICS Summit in 2014, he met President Xi for the first time. Their last meeting was in Tashkent on the sidelines of the SCO Summit in June. With the possible exception of President Obama, PM Modi has probably met President Xi more often than any other world leader since taking charge. While relations with the US has soared, relations with China are mired in tension and distrust. Hopes which had surfaced after Modi’s victory that relations with China will improve have been sorely belied. Modi had embraced China with eagerness after coming to power to make it an active partner in India’s economic development. This initiative has fallen flat. China has not accorded appropriate importance to India’s concerns as India had hoped. These relate not only to issues bedeviling bilateral ties, but equally to China’s all out support to its ‘’iron friend’’ Pakistan. China has been unmindful of Pakistan’s funding and support to terrorism which could adversely impact China’s own security in the not too distant a future.

South China Sea dispute and the centrality of UNCLOS

Some major issues that have afflicted bilateral relations in recent months include China’s blockade of India’s Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership bid at Seoul in June, putting a ”technical hold” on designating Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar as terrorist by UN Security Council, and extensive support to Pakistan for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which passes through Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) — a region that juridically belongs to India. China has claimed that it is unfair to single it out because there were several other countries which were opposed to a non-NPT signatory becoming a member of the NSG.